It’s no secret that people consider CPAs to be hopeless nerds. After all, only a total dork with lousy social skills would want to sit at a desk all day dealing with boring numbers, right?
Except numbers aren’t nearly as boring as one might think. On the contrary, numbers are, in fact, nasty little snitches. Just ask the celebrities whose numbers sold them out to the IRS: Nicolas Cage, Wesley Snipes, Val Kilmer, Judy Garland, Martha Stewart, Marc Anthony, Richard Pryor, Willie Nelson, Darryl Strawberry, Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, and both Abbot and Costello. Reality hit hard for reality show winner Richard Hatch, winner of the first season of “Survivor,” who failed to pay tax on his winnings. Numbers also sang like birds to the chagrin of Ruben Studdard, winner of the second season of “American Idol,” who owed taxes to the IRS.
Yep, checkbooks, bank statements, and credit card bills conspire to reveal to CPAs the strictest confidences their clients try so hard to hide. And numbers don’t lie.
Is a client a Scrooge, selfishly hoarding earnings? Or is the client generous, making significant contributions to charity? If so, which charities does the client contribute to? Human rights groups? Environmental charities? The Society to Save the Endangered Dung Beetle? The numbers will tell.
Numbers show whether a client is careful with his money, saving for his children’s college education, his retirement, and emergencies. Numbers also reveal if the client is a reckless spender, splurging on expensive vacations, designer clothing, and high-priced entertainment with no thought to tomorrow.
What is a client’s secret indulgence? Is it shoes? Fine wine? Massages? And where does the client cut corners? Housing? Car? Food? The numbers know.
Numbers are like crystal balls, providing intimate glimpses into the client’s life, mind, and soul. It’s a bit unsettling, isn’t it?
Numbers expose a client’s personality. If the client has bought into in a multitude of multilevel marketing schemes, the client is a bright-eyed optimist and probably a bit gullible. On the other hand, if a client invests only in blue-chip stocks and government bonds, the client is a risk-averse pessimist, taking no chances, perhaps somewhat wimpy.
Numbers will show whether a client is pious, regularly attending a place of worship and making faithful contributions. And speaking of faithful, numbers can nail a married taxpayer who provides receipts from a business trip indicating he not only watched in-room porn, but also paid for room service for two even though his wife was not along on the trip. Hmm . . .
Of course numbers are subject to interpretation. If a client presents a CPA with a handful of W-2s, is the client flighty, unwilling to stick with a particular job? Or has the client simply not yet found his life’s purpose? And if a client presents the tax preparer with a single W-2 from the same company he’s worked at for years, is the client loyal and steadfast, or does he lack the initiative to seek a better job elsewhere? If a client spent sixty bucks on a mani-pedi but didn’t spend six dollars to join the PTA, is she an uninvolved mother? Or did she get into a snit with the hospitality chairperson over which color of frosting to use on the carnival cupcakes?
In one of the more interesting tax controversies, some very large numbers were involved. A stripper named Cynthia Hess (stage name “Chesty Love”) deducted the cost of a boob job that increased her breasts to a size 56FF. Her financial records showed that the set, which weighed twenty pounds, significantly increased her income from exotic dancing. The court bought the argument that her implants were a “stage prop” and allowed her a tax deduction for the set.
Charges for a tummy tuck, speeding tickets, genital wart medication. Therapy. Alimony. Bankruptcy. Debts and delinquencies. A consultation with a divorce attorney . . . Each financial file contains a virtual soap opera.
How dare our numbers dish up dirt on all of us!
Next time you take your financial records to your CPA, pay attention. You just might note a wicked glimmer in his eye.
Diane Kelly is author of the Death & Taxes mystery series. The series debut, Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure will be released November 1st. Visit Diane on the web at www.dianekelly.com, on Twitter, on Facebook, and at Killer Fiction.